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Staying safe and government guidance

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Coronavirus and the return to school

This page tells you what we know about the risk of children catching and spreading coronavirus, the risk at schools, and what you can do.

Children of all ages returned to school on 11 August in Scotland, and are due to return to school on 31 August in Northern Ireland and 1 September in England and Wales.

What we know about children, schools and coronavirus

Many parents are understandably worried about sending their children back to school. From the research and evidence available, this is what we know about the risk.

Although nothing can be completely free of risk, the evidence currently available suggests that for many children, including some children with blood cancer, returning to school can be safe.

Last updated: 28 August 2020

Children experience a milder disease than adults when they are infected, and may go unnoticed

They often do not show any symptoms or they have mild symptoms. There have been far fewer confirmed cases of coronavirus in children than in adults (children consistently make up 1-5% of the total number of cases in reports, yet they account for 29% of the population).[1] [2] But this may be because adults are more likely to show symptoms and be tested and reported. Very few children develop severe or life-threatening disease.[3]

Some evidence suggests that children may be less likely to catch coronavirus – but this is difficult to confirm without widespread testing, as many children show no symptoms

Where testing is done, in general the majority of countries report slightly lower infection rates in children than in adults, however these differences are small and uncertain.[4] Several studies have found that children are less likely to acquire coronavirus though.[5] Some have found that in a household, children are less likely than adults to catch the virus from someone they live with[6] [7]. This is also supported in countries that have done widespread testing, where rates in children are lower.[8] Studies of outbreaks at schools have also found that children are less affected than adults.[9] [10] [11] [12]

What is the risk of my child catching coronavirus at school?

There have been many studies done into outbreaks at schools around the world. [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20]

Each school is different in its infection control measures, and in disease levels in the local community at the time. Studies are also usually small. But some common findings so far have been:

  • Outbreaks in schools have been uncommon in reports from around the world.
  • Outbreaks often affect small numbers of students and teachers.
  • Children are significantly less affected than teachers.
  • Children are less likely than adults to catch the virus during an outbreak.
  • Children are less likely to pass the virus on during an outbreak.
  • The virus is mostly spread from adult to adult, and sometimes from adult to child.
  • Transmission between children is much less common.
  • In some studies, school outbreaks didn’t affect any children at all.
  • In some studies, children with coronavirus did not pass it on to anyone else.
  • More significant outbreaks have happened where social distancing measures were not followed (eg crowded classrooms) and where children had contact with higher numbers of other children.
  • Re-opening schools has not been associated with significant increases of cases in the community.

What is the risk of me getting coronavirus from my child?

Although children are much less affected by coronavirus, we don’t fully understand their role in carrying and transmitting the virus.

There is limited research into child to adult transmission, although it seems to be less common than adult to adult or adult to child.

There is some evidence to suggest that children may be less likely to pass on coronavirus. Studies on school outbreaks (referenced above) suggest that children are less likely to pass on the virus. Several studies of families who’ve had coronavirus have also found that the children were unlikely to be the first case in the family.[21] Other studies have found that people with no symptoms were less likely to pass on the virus than people with symptoms.[22]

However, there have also been studies that have found that children and young people have passed on the virus to other people, sometimes more than adults.[23] [24] Like many aspects of coronavirus, this remains an area of uncertainty.

Are there differences between younger and older children?

In those under 18, research that looks at different age groups is limited and mixed.

One study found that children aged 13–17 were more likely to have coronavirus than younger children[25]. Another study found that children aged 10-19 passed on the virus within their household more than children under 10 or adults.[26]

However, other studies found that younger children had higher infection rates during school outbreaks,[27] and that children passed the virus on more the younger they were.[28]

In an analysis of school outbreaks in England, primary schools were more likely to have outbreaks and higher infection numbers, but these schools had more pupils back than secondary schools, and not as many secondary schools were included in the data.[29]

Again, this is an area of uncertainty that we will continue to learn more about.

Although there are many unknowns, we do know about things that help prevent outbreaks and spread – social distancing, good hand hygiene, smaller classes and ‘bubbles’, contact tracing, and self-isolation of anyone with symptoms.

If you or another adult in your household has blood cancer

Children are now expected to return to school wherever possible, even if you or another adult in your household is in the clinically extremely vulnerable group. This is because governments and researchers believe that the benefits for children of being back in school (educationally and socially) outweigh the low level of risk from coronavirus.

Although evidence so far tells us that school outbreaks are uncommon, often affect small numbers of people, and often affect teachers more than students, nobody can know exactly what will happen at individual schools when pupils return.

This is understandably worrying for anyone concerned about increasing their exposure to coronavirus when their children go back to school. If you are worried about this:

  • Remember that not all adults with blood cancer have the same risk levels. Find out more about understanding your level of risk.
  • Talk to your healthcare team about your level of risk and what you can do to limit the risks in your circumstances.
  • Talk to your child’s school about the measures they have put in place to maintain social distancing – this could help put your mind at rest.
  • Follow strict hygiene practices at home – see 'Things you can do at home' below.
  • Talk through your concerns with our Support Services Team.
  • Read other parents' views or talk to others on our online forum thread: Shielding and children returning to school
  • See our information on Mind and emotions for ideas on coping with anxiety.

If you are a teacher worried about your own risk of retuning to school, see our information about your rights and talking to your employer.

If your child has blood cancer

Now that shielding has been paused, most children are expected to go back to school.

Some children may still be too vulnerable to return, but for these children, this probably would have been the case before coronavirus too, and is more about infection prevention in general than coronavirus. Clinical teams will continue to give parents guidance on this.

Talk to your child’s medical team about the return to school. Some children with blood cancer will be able to return.

Evidence about the risk of coronavirus to children with cancer suggests that the impact is less severe than previously thought. Recent guidance has grouped children into two risk groups:

  • Vulnerable – Can attend school, as long as social distancing and hygiene measures are followed.
  • Extremely vulnerable – Should not attend school, but their siblings can.

Find out more about which children with blood cancer are in each group.

Advice that some children with cancer can return to school is based on the following facts:

  • Children are far less likely than adults to get COVID-19 infection.
  • The risk of severe COVID-19 disease in children is very low.
  • The risk of severe COVID-19 disease in children with cancer across the world remains low.
  • There is evidence to suggest that children do not spread COVID-19 like adults. Child to child transmission is rare.

Your child’s treating team are best placed to advise on whether your child could return to school. Speak to them about your concerns – they are there to help you through this.

This is a worrying time for many parents of children with blood cancer. Here are some things that can help:

  • Talk to your child’s treating team about their level of risk and what you can do to limit risks.
  • Talk to your child’s school about the measures they have put in place to maintain social distancing and hygiene – the should be happy to explain them.
  • Follow strict hygiene practices at home – see 'Things you can do at home' below.
  • Remember there are lots of other ways you are already protecting your child, by following social distancing guidelines in your daily lives.
  • Talk to us – we’re here to listen and support you.
  • Talk to other parents on our online community forum.
  • See our information on Mind and emotions for ideas on coping with anxiety.

For more information, see the guidance and data about children with cancer and coronavirus from CCLG.

CLIC Sargent have also produced some information to support schools with pupils with cancer.

What schools are doing to protect pupils and families

The four governments of the UK have produced guidance for schools on how to manage re-opening safely. Here are links to the full guidance for:

There are variations in the guidance published by the different countries, but the principles are the same. The exact measures will depend on things like the age of the children and the layout of the school. For specific information about your child’s school, contact the school directly. They should be willing to discuss any concerns you have and may share their risk assessment with you if you ask.

We’ve summarised here some of things UK schools are doing to protect pupils, staff and families:

  • Minimising contact – This could involve dividing children into groups and keep these groups apart, re-arranging classrooms differently, limiting movement around school, setting up one-way systems for arrival and leaving, and staff maintaining their distance from children and each other as much as possible.
  • Cleaning hands – Children will be encouraged to clean their hands thoroughly with soap and water or hand sanitiser much more often than usual, especially when they arrive at school, around break-time, before and after eating, and if they move between rooms.
  • Catch it, bin it, kill it – Schools will encourage children to catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue, bin the tissue, then clean their hands.
  • Extra cleaning – Schools are expected to arrange more regular cleaning of shared areas and toilets, particularly surfaces that are touched more often. Toys and play equipment will also be cleaned more often.
  • Managing pupils who are unwell – Schools must make clear that anyone with symptoms of coronavirus should not come to school. Anyone who becomes ill at school will be isolated until they can be sent home. Staff will wear PPE (personal protective equipment) when looking after children who are unwell.
  • Engaging with health protection services – Schools must make sure they understand how to respond if they have confirmed cases of coronavirus and must engage with contact tracing services.
  • Face coverings – The rules on face coverings at school vary between the countries of the UK, but you can find the latest guidance on government websites in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Ways to protect yourself at home

You and others in your household, including children, can lower the level of risk by following these hygiene rules:

  • Regularly wash your hands thoroughly (for 20 seconds) with soap and water. Wash your hands straight away if you’ve been out anywhere, including to school.
  • Use hand sanitiser when soap and water aren’t available.
  • Continue to avoid touching your face with your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects like door handles, and kitchen and bathroom surfaces.
  • Consider keeping separate towels, crockery and cutlery for anyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.

School attendance

It’s compulsory for children to have an education, and under UK law parents and carers can be penalised if their children don’t go to school (unless they are following clinical advice to keep their child away).

All four governments want children back in school, but there’s some variation in their attitudes to the penalties if children don’t attend school regularly:

  • In England: Attendance at school is compulsory from 1 September and local authorities can take action against parents (such as issuing fines or starting court proceedings) if they’re concerned about a child’s attendance. Children who are off school due to medical advice should be offered remote education.
  • In Scotland: The Scottish government has said that as recommended in its existing guidelines, action will only be taken against parents as a last resort, once other approaches have been exhausted.
  • In Wales: It is the Welsh government’s current view that it isn’t appropriate to take action against parents if their child does not return to school. This will be reviewed after the autumn half term.
  • In Northern Ireland: Attendance at school is compulsory from 31 August and schools will make a referral to the Education Welfare Service if they are concerned about a child’s attendance.

It’s important to discuss any concerns with your child’s school and agree how your child can continue their education in a way that’s safe for your family. Speak to your healthcare team for advice about your individual situation.

School outbreaks and local lockdowns

If a coronavirus case is confirmed at a school, the school should notify the local health protection team. Anyone else who has been in recent close contact with the case will need to self-isolate. Health protection teams will guide schools in managing confirmed cases, advise if the number of cases or level of symptoms could suggest an outbreak, and tell them what other measures to take if any.

Government guidance says that if a child or young adult in your household has to self-isolate because of a confirmed coronavirus case at school, you and other members of your household don't have to self-isolate unless the child or young adult develops symptoms. So it's possible that although one child has to stay home because of a confirmed case in their class or year group, others in your household can legally carry on going to school or work as normal.

If you have blood cancer, an outbreak at your child’s school is bound to make you feel anxious. Speak to your healthcare team and see what they recommend you should do, based on your circumstances. If your child develops symptoms, try to distance from them as much as you can, although that may be very difficult. Follow the general advice on hygiene as strictly as possible – see Ways to protect yourself at home above.

Find out more about what schools should do in the event of an outbreak from the government websites in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

There’s a possibility that schools may close if there is a surge in coronavirus cases leading to a local lockdown, or if there’s an outbreak at the school. In this situation, schools should have plans for how to continue education from home.

Get support from our online community forum

Connect with other people affected by blood cancer who have school-age children. Join our online community forum and find people who understand.

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Tell us about your experience

You can help improve support for people with blood cancer by completing our impact of coronavirus survey. The results will help us understand the impact on people with blood cancer and help us support clinicians and the NHS.

Keep updated about coronavirus and blood cancer

Join our mailing list for key updates about coronavirus for people with blood cancer, what we're doing to help, and ways you can help, including campaigns you may be interested in.

Support for you

Call our free and confidential helpline on 0808 2080 888 from Monday to Friday, 10am to 7pm, and Saturday to Sunday, 10am to 1pm.

We are currently receiving a very high volume of calls related to coronavirus, so if you're not able to get through straight away, please leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

You can also email us if you prefer to get in contact that way. We'll usually get back to you within two working days, but due to the current rate of calls and emails we are currently receiving it may take us longer.

Talk to other people with blood cancer on our Online Community Forum – there is a group for coronavirus questions and support.

You can also find out what's helping other people affected by blood cancer through coronavirus and beyond in our pages on living well with or after blood cancer.

Sources

[1] Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, COVID-19 – Research evidence summaries: Epidemiology https://www.rcpch.ac.uk/resources/covid-19-research-evidence-summaries#epidemiology, accessed 26 August

[2] World Health Organisation, Q&A: Schools and COVID-19, https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-schools-and-covid-19, accessed 26 August 2020

[3] Olivia V Swann et al, Clinical characteristics of children and young people admitted to hospital with covid-19 in United Kingdom: prospective multicentre observational cohort study, published 27 August 2020, https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3249, accessed 28 August 2020

[4] European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 in children and the role of school settings in COVID-19 transmission, published 6 August 2020, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/COVID-19-schools-transmission-August%202020.pdf, accessed 26 August 2020

[5] Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, COVID-19 – Research evidence summaries: Transmission https://www.rcpch.ac.uk/resources/covid-19-research-evidence-summaries#epidemiology, accessed 26 August

[6] Zachary J. Madewell et al. Household transmission of SARS-CoV-2: a systematic review and meta-analysis of secondary attack rate, preprint posted 1 August 2020, https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.07.29.20164590v1, accessed 26 August 2020

[7] Wei Li et al, The characteristics of household transmission of COVID-19, published 17 April 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7184465/, accessed 26 August 2020

[8] Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, COVID-19 – Research evidence summaries: Transmission https://www.rcpch.ac.uk/resources/covid-19-research-evidence-summaries#epidemiology, accessed 26 August

[9] Laura Heavy, et al. No evidence of secondary transmission of COVID-19 from children attending school in Ireland, 2020, published 28 May, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7268273/, accessed 26 August 2020

[10] Chee Fu Yung et al, Novel Coronavirus 2019 Transmission Risk in Educational Settings, published 25 June 2020, https://academic.oup.com/cid/advance-article/doi/10.1093/cid/ciaa794/5862649, accessed 26 August 2020

[11] Prof Kristine Macartney, MD et al. Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Australian educational settings: a prospective cohort study, published 3 August 2020, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanchi/article/PIIS2352-4642(20)30251-0/fulltext, accessed 26 August 2020

[12] Juan Pablo Torres, PhD et al, SARS-CoV-2 antibody prevalence in blood in a large school community subject to a Covid-19 outbreak: a cross-sectional study, published 10 July 2020, https://academic.oup.com/cid/advance-article/doi/10.1093/cid/ciaa955/5869860, accessed 26 August 2020

[13] Laura Heavy, et al. No evidence of secondary transmission of COVID-19 from children attending school in Ireland, 2020, published 28 May, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7268273/, accessed 26 August 2020

[14] Chee Fu Yung et al, Novel Coronavirus 2019 Transmission Risk in Educational Settings, published 25 June 2020, https://academic.oup.com/cid/advance-article/doi/10.1093/cid/ciaa794/5862649, accessed 26 August 2020

[15] Prof Kristine Macartney, MD et al. Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Australian educational settings: a prospective cohort study, published 3 August 2020, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanchi/article/PIIS2352-4642(20)30251-0/fulltext, accessed 26 August 2020

[16] Juan Pablo Torres, PhD et al, SARS-CoV-2 antibody prevalence in blood in a large school community subject to a Covid-19 outbreak: a cross-sectional study, published 10 July 2020, https://academic.oup.com/cid/advance-article/doi/10.1093/cid/ciaa955/5869860, accessed 26 August 2020

[17] European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 in children and the role of school settings in COVID-19 transmission, published 6 August 2020, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/COVID-19-schools-transmission-August%202020.pdf, accessed 26 August 2020

[18] Public Health England, SARS-CoV-2 infection and transmission in educational settings: cross-sectional analysis of clusters and outbreaks in England, published 12 August 2020, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/911267/School_Outbreaks_Analysis.pdf, accessed 26 August 2020

[19] Chen Stein-Zamir et al, A large COVID-19 outbreak in a high school 10 days after schools’ reopening, Israel, May 2020, published 23 July 2020, https://www.eurosurveillance.org/content/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2020.25.29.2001352#html_fulltext, accessed 26 August 2020

[20] Christine M. Szablewski, DVM et al, SARS-CoV-2 Transmission and Infection Among Attendees of an Overnight Camp — Georgia, June 2020, published 31 July 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6931e1.htm?s_cid=mm6931e1_w, accessed 26 August 2020

[21] Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, COVID-19 – Research evidence summaries: Transmission https://www.rcpch.ac.uk/resources/covid-19-research-evidence-summaries#transmission, accessed 26 August 2020

[22] Zachary J. Madewell et al. Household transmission of SARS-CoV-2: a systematic review and meta-analysis of secondary attack rate, preprint posted 1 August 2020, https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.07.29.20164590v1, accessed 26 August 2020

[23] Pirous Fateh-Moghadam et al, Contact tracing during Phase I of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Province of Trento, Italy: key findings and recommendations, https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.07.16.20127357v1, accessed 26 August 2020

[24] Young Joon Park et al, Contact Tracing during Coronavirus Disease Outbreak, South Korea, 2020, https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/10/20-1315_article, accessed 26 August 2020

[25] Stefania Bellino, PhD et al, COVID-19 Disease Severity Risk Factors for Pediatric Patients in Italy https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2020/07/16/peds.2020-009399.full.pdf, accessed 26 August 2020

[26] Young Joon Park et al, Contact Tracing during Coronavirus Disease Outbreak, South Korea, 2020, https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/10/20-1315_article, accessed 26 August 2020

[27] Juan Pablo Torres, PhD et al, SARS-CoV-2 antibody prevalence in blood in a large school community subject to a Covid-19 outbreak: a cross-sectional study, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32649743/, accessed 26 August 2020

[28] Pirous Fateh-Moghadam et al, Contact tracing during Phase I of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Province of Trento, Italy: key findings and recommendations, https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.07.16.20127357v1, accessed 26 August 2020

[29] Public Health England, SARS-CoV-2 infection and transmission in educational settings: cross-sectional analysis of clusters and outbreaks in England, published 12 August 2020, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/911267/School_Outbreaks_Analysis.pdf, accessed 26 August 2020

The following companies have provided funding for our coronavirus support, but have had no further input: AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Celgene, Gilead, Incyte, Kyowa Kirin, Novartis, Pfizer, Sanofi, Takeda.

We're here for you if you want to talk

0808 2080 888

[email protected]